This morning our team that handles all of our incoming customer service, sales, and technical support requests started buzzing with activity as soon as they arrived in the office. We had hundreds of emails from customers over the weekend asking for help with everything from upgrading their software to our new version of Business Plan Pro to teams of executives using our online business plan storage and collaboration service, SecurePlan.

It’s noon on Monday now, and all of our hundreds of emails have been answered from over the weekend. I am seeing thank you messages flying into the shared inboxes confirming that once again, our team has done an amazing job handling these inquiries very quickly and still with excellent customer service and accurate answers.

There are three key factors at work here that allow us to manage incoming communications so effectively with a small, dedicated team:

1. Email Center Pro: We developed this solution in-house to overcome very obvious challenges with shared email.

For years we were burning tons of our managers’ time distributing email messages all morning, just to get them ready for answers and follow up. We all know that the time between a lead coming in and being engaged can mean the difference between a high and low close ratio. Let leads sit untouched, and your prospects either lose interest or build frustration based on your lack of communication. Has a prospect ever told you that they felt like their business may not have been important to you as a company, because they did not get a timely response?

Managers checking addresses like sales@, customerservice@, and info@ used to spend their mornings forwarding messages into personal email boxes, only to lose any visibility and quality control or end up with a pile of second-round responses that needed to go to the right person quickly (and too often did not).

These challenges have been completely overcome. With Email Center Pro, we work through email as a team, assigning messages to the person with the right expertise, engaging in internal conversations about how best to answer, and re-using, fine-tuning, and creating new answers to questions. The velocity of customer service has steadily increased, and the amazing thing is that accuracy, quality, and personal service have improved at the same time.

2. Internal Instant Messaging (any flavor works – the key is that everyone is available).

Our Customer Care Team answers telephone calls, responds to emails, makes outbound calls, and chats live with our customers via our web site. With all of these simultaneous communication lines constantly open, how do we work with one another to share best practices, collaborate on answers, and provide accurate answers quickly? We instant message team mates, other departments, managers, directors, and even our c-level executives for answers. Live communication and real-time collaboration means the right answer goes to the right customer without hold times, call escalation, and any kind of run-around.

3. Empowerment.

I saved this for last because of importance. Empowerment is the key to all of the normal, everyday people that make up our customer-facing team shining as superstars in the work environment. Without empowering our people to make decisions based purely on helping achieve our customers’ goals, we could spend huge budgets, major engineering resources, and endless time training employees to use infrastructure and tools that would just end up losing business and frustrating our existing customers. The ability for our customer-facing team members to make a decision and know that they are supported all the way up the chain is the difference between you being on hold, talking to multiple levels and departments, and generally receiving poor service versus getting the right answer, right away, the first time.

Find your balance and find it fast, because good tools in the hands of empowered employees equals real success.

Jake Weatherly
Director of Customer Experience
Palo Alto Software

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